In Las Vegas, a Family Goes to Court Over Decision To Shutter Failing Newspaper
Brian Greenspun is suing to stop his siblings from undoing the legacy of their father, Hank, founder of the ‘Las Vegas Sun’
Indeed, the Greenspun sisters appear to have taken no serious interest in the media business. Janie is known as a major benefactor for animal-welfare causes; Susan, while involved in charitable work, maintains a lower profile. Danny had space in the Sun’s buildings, where he would proudly invite guests to take a swing at the boxer’s punching bag hanging from the ceiling of his sparse office. Viewing himself as a forward thinker, Danny primarily pursued new opportunities provided by the Internet and alliances with the city’s tourism industry. That has proved lucrative; along with hotel bookings, the Greenspun company manages concierge services for dozens of Las Vegas resorts and sells show tickets and tours through vegas.com and lasvegas.com—which it currently leases from Stephens Media for $2.5 million a year but would acquire under the terms of the deal to terminate the Review-Journal’s JOA with the Sun.
The Sun, meanwhile, was a passion project for Brian that his siblings tolerated in a boom era when resources seemed limitless. But that simmering discontent blew up, insiders say, in 2009—the year the documentary came out—as gigantic losses in key elements of the Greenspun family’s real-estate and casino holdings knocked the family out of the billionaires club. The strain was already starting to show by the time the Sun won the Pulitzer Prize: Only Brian and his wife escorted the winners to New York for the ceremony. They flew on a rented private plane, a step down from the family’s jet, which had been sold. “There’s just a lot of bad blood because they’re all used to being gazillionaires, and they’re not gazillionaires anymore,” said one family friend.
But the Sun was also the key to the family’s prominence in Nevada. “With all the wealth they had, it was the Sun that allowed them to be what they were to the community,” said Mel Hecht, the rabbi who officiated at Danny Greenspun’s wedding. “They were giants, Hank and Barbara. They’d be very proud of Brian and very appreciative of him attempting to keep it going because it was their baby.”
Even before the latest lawsuit, the siblings were already in court fighting: Earlier this year, Susan sued Brian to collect repayment of a $2 million loan. That case was settled on undisclosed terms. “It’s a family,” Brian Greenspun said. “Sometimes families get along, sometimes families don’t get along. We’re no different than any other family.”
Still, Greenspun acknowledged being blindsided by his siblings’ decision to give up on the Sun. “I have no idea what the rest of my family knew,” he said. Now he’s hoping to prevail in court, where he’s requested a temporary restraining order on the suspension of the JOA. Powerful forces are likely to line up on his side: Reid, and with him the Obama White House, have no interest in allowing the Review-Journal to be the sole editorial voice in Las Vegas. “This is exactly why you have JOAs,” Heikes said. “Is there a more stark contrast anywhere else in the country between the Sun and the R-J and their total domination of the local media?”
But a stay would, at best, be a lifeline preserving the status quo while a longer-term arrangement is worked out. When asked about a rumored notion that he could buy out his siblings and find other investors to keep the Sun afloat, Greenspun shrugged, “Anything’s possible.” He’s clearly dispirited, despite his reticence about discussing the inner workings of his family. “I’m a little bit at a loss,” he acknowledged wistfully. “I’m the only one who goes to work every day at that newspaper.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that Greenspun attended Georgetown University with Bill Clinton, not Yale Law School.
Friess was a staff writer for the Las Vegas Review-Journal from 1996-1999 and a columnist for the Las Vegas Weekly, owned by Greenspun Media Group, from 2006-2011.
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